Use Your Words.

Each day there is a new creak or a new wrinkle. I used to see my reflection in a window and check to see if my hair was perfect. Now I glance and wonder GACK! Who on earth is that pudgy old woman and why is she stooped so?

But finally – a tiny shred of good news about getting old!

According to last Wednesday’s The Wall Street Journal, a recent study of intelligence published in the journal Psychological Science, shows that, despite the various losses as we age (they are legion, no arguing that…) one skill continues to shine. According to the study’s lead author, MIT postdoctoral fellow Joshua Hartshorne, “our vocabularies continue to grow, peaking as late as age 70”.

Anyone besides me suffer from this?

Anyone besides me suffer from this?

I collect words at an even more alarming pace than I collect chickens. Within the last few weeks, I’ve added these beauties to my list:

cerumen

prolonge

philtrum

Gold stars to anyone who knows these on sight. And may I never encounter you in a game of Words with Friends!

Cerumen is a fancy word for earwax. I came across it in a game of QuizUp, one of my go-to activities during bouts of insomnia. Prolonge is not a verb, but a noun, defined by Merriam-Webster as “a rope with a hook and a toggle used chiefly for dragging a gun carriage or attaching it to the limber”. (What on God’s green earth is a limber, I am now wondering?) I encountered it while reading about the Civil War, where I suppose a prolonge could make a difference in a prolonged battle. (And now let me take a moment now to deeply sympathize with anyone trying to learn English as a second language.)

In case you didn't already know, this is a prolonge. (image from historicalordnanceworks.com)

In case you didn’t already know, this is a prolonge. (image from historicalordnanceworks.com)

Of the three words, philtrum was the one I knew I had seen before. It was right there on the tip of my tongue. Well, directly above it, at least. The philtrum is that little vertical groove between the base of your nose and the border of your upper lip.

Right in front of your nose, almost: the philtrum (image from suggestkeyword.com)

Right in front of your nose, almost: the philtrum (image from suggestkeyword.com)

Certain authors send me scurrying to the dictionary on almost every page. I was charmed by Kent Haruf’s command of the language in his exquisite novel, Tinkers. Words like panicles, clepsydra, ichthyic roll off his literary tongue.

Probably not a compliment if someone pronounces you ichthyic, or fish-like (image from cartoon movement.com)

Probably not a compliment if someone pronounces you ichthyic, or fish-like (image from cartoon movement.com)

Famed physician/author Oliver Sacks is a master of word-play, scattering gems like eidetic, funambulist, peccant, recrudescence and aboulia among the pages of his book Awakenings.

You say funambulist, I say tightrope-walker. (image from juxtapose.com)

You say funambulist, I say tightrope-walker. (image from juxtapose.com)

The Second Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary contains entries for 171,476 words in current use. It is estimated that the average English speaker knows 10,000 to 20,000 words but routinely uses only 2,000 – 3,000 of them. Judging from texts exchanged with my adult children, that may be an optimistic calculation.

How parents converse with their children today. (image from list25.com)

How parents converse with their children today. (image from list25.com)

Dr. Hartshorne, of the aging study, delivers some predictably bad news about aging, but guess what? It begins earlier than you might think: “Processing speed – how fast we absorb and rejig numbers, names and facts – peaks around 18, then ‘drops off a cliff'”, he warns. I hadn’t realized that 20-somethings are right there with me in the lethologica department. All this time, I thought they were ignoring me, but maybe they, too, are searching for the right word?

We all know that what is referred to as “working memory” takes a hike as we age. So, for as many fancy words as I look up, you won’t likely have to suffer me using them in sentences. Yes, I looked them up. Yes, I know what they mean. I just can’t remember to use them!

May your weekend be filled with good words…

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About polloplayer

Empty nester searching for meaning of life through the occasional chicken epiphany.
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9 Responses to Use Your Words.

  1. C.S. Wilde says:

    lol, very good points

  2. lynettedavis says:

    This is such a cool post!

  3. Loved this. It brought back memories of my father. For the life of him he couldn’t use the “regular” word instead of reaching for the obscure. It’s amazing I didn’t become a translator b/c I spent most of my upbringing, explaining to people what he was trying to say. That he was “setting out on an antejentacular walk” simply meant he was taking a stroll before breakfast. And, basically, to explain that when my father was declaring he’s a “sesquipedalian” and apologizing for his “logorrhea” that one didn’t need to back away, he was simply apologizing for his propensity to use long works and talk too much.

  4. dizzyguy says:

    Interesting……very interesting. However, if you spend too much time around children, barnyard animals or pets of any description, the 2000-3000 needs division by 1K. However, that does not count grunts, pointing fingers, knee slapping, whistling, spitting or eye-rolling; these are alternative forms of communication that do not count against your word quota.

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